To Succeed, Don’t Obsess About Reasons You Might Fail

A few months ago, I talked about why startups must focus first on the problem, not the solution. A few days ago, I talked about the need to refocus from time to time.

There’s another side to focus that’s rarely discussed – focusing (and often obsessing) on reasons you might fail versus focusing on reasons you might succeed.

To succeed, don’t obsess about the reasons you might fail. If you do, you WILL fail.

The recent reactions from the developer communities to moves by Apple and Twitter underscored both the importance of making sure that you don’t tie your business to that of another company, and also the importance of making sure that you obsess about and focus on success – and not on failure.

At the end of the day, even if there are 99 ways you could fail and only 1 way you could succeed, there’s a very basic and undeniable fact: you can only succeed if you focus on the 1 way you can succeed. Focusing on the many ways you could fail will NOT lead to success. I discuss this in the following video:

What do you think? Do you agree that focusing on possible failures significantly increases the chances that you WILL fail?

The Need To Refocus From Time To Time

It’s common for us to be consumed by our daily tasks and routines, at the expense of focus, learning, and assessment of strategy.

Two announcements yesterday highlighted for me the importance of constantly reassessing the direction in which we’re moving (personally and professionally). The first was a post by Chris Brogan – “What Goes Into Redrawing” – talking about why he’s decided to “redraw” how he connects with people, spends his day, and pursues his business interests. The second was a video by Gary Vaynerchuk talking about his decision to significantly adjust what he calls his “work/work” balance (Gary’s video is below mine).

It’s very important to step aside from daily routines and tasks and assess what’s working and what isn’t. While you can balance your own daily priorities and routines, and teams can refocus by going on on strategy retreats, that’s often not enough. It’s also important for us to find ways to refocus individually over a longer term. Here’s why:

Here’s Gary’s video:

How do you periodically refocus what you’re doing (personally and professionally)?

What is Your Core Business?

Too often, startups risk getting misdirected by the media and customers to add features and functionality to a product or service that turn out to be collateral to the core business. I believe this is happening now with Gowalla and Foursquare, among others. Both services have recently become media darlings, but neither has managed to break out beyond a relatively modest group of technology enthusiasts.

Last week while at SXSW, I tested both services and believe even more strongly now than I did before SXSW that the feature creep evident in the recent releases from both companies may do more harm than good to their ability to compete with other companies focusing on local advertising (Google, Facebook, and MANY others).

By following the media’s lead (and thirst for more “cool” releases), Gowalla and Foursquare seem to be focused on features collateral to their businesses.

Are Gowalla and Foursquare squandering their opportunities and visibility? I believe they are.

Location based marketing is important, but every website and service will soon be able to execute location based marketing strategies. Importantly, location based marketing is expected to take up a 70% share of all U.S. interactive marketing spending as soon as 2014 – $4 billion in 2015 (up from $34 million in 2009). Companies that don’t focus on their core business will cede leadership and market share to those who do.

As I discuss in this video, there’s a danger when you split your focus and forget about your core business.

Do you think that the features being introduced by Gowalla and Foursquare are critical to their location based advertising models? Why?

Startup Tip: Dealing With Customer Resistance To Change

Whether you are a small or a Fortune 50 company, customers typically resist attempts to change products or services they perceive work well. People prefer to deal with the things they already know rather than get used to something new. But innovative companies must constantly find ways to improve their products and services.

How can innovation and resistance to change be reconciled? In this short video, I talk about the lessons we’ve learned along the way in introducing changes to the crowdSPRING marketplace.

What have you done to help your customers or your community deal with change?

Not Every Failure Is A Learning Experience

Many entrepreneurs and investors – especially in Silicon Valley – believe that failure is acceptable. Mark Suster writes:

I prefer second time (or more) entrepreneurs.  Sure, I would love to work with people who have had multiple successes.  But I’m not afraid of entrepreneurs that didn’t succeed the first time.  I want to work with talented people with good judgment.  And so I’m out to spread the word, “Good Judgment Comes from Experience, but Experience Comes from Bad Judgment.”  Go out and learn.

There’s a big difference, however, between failing while giving your very best, and failing for the sake of failing.

I discuss this difference in the following short video.

Do you agree?

To Innovate, You Have To Stay Dissatisfied

Success makes some people complacent. Other people expect to continue to succeed by doing the things that made them successful. This is not always possible, however. To innovate, you have to stay dissatisfied. Here’s why:

Do you agree?

Startup Tip: The Dirty Secret About Features

I have little doubt that every investor has heard an entrepreneur touting how their new product or service will “crush” the competition with great features that the competition hasn’t yet seen. Many entrepreneurs – especially aspiring entrepreneurs – believe that product or service features represent a great competitive advantage.

There’s a dirty secret about features – they’re rarely a competitive advantage. I discuss why in the following short video.

What do you think?

Buzzwords and the Credibility Problem

It’s tempting to promote a product, service or company by using popular buzzwords. The formula is simple: pick some buzzwords, string them together in a few sentences, and voila!

Buzzwords can be appropriate and convenient. But 90% of the time, they are misused.

I am growing increasingly sensitive to how I use buzzwords, because I am noticing that I react negatively when others use buzzwords in written and verbal communications. When I start hearing a parade of buzzwords, I conclude that the person isn’t communicating – they’re just stringing together a bunch of words for effect.

I suspect that you too react negatively or that like me, you start to tune out the conversation when you hear many buzzwords. That’s the rub with buzzwords – if everyone uses them, they are no longer unique. Who cares if you have a ground-breaking or viral product if every single other company claims to have a ground-breaking or viral product?

If your audience is tuning you out, your marketing or fundraising message will fall on deaf ears.

There’s an easy solution. Talk with people.

Cut the buzzwords. They are not necessary.

image credit: Zach Inglis

Not Everything That Can Be Counted Counts

It’s tempting for startups to count everything that can be counted. After all, prospective investors and the media are often influenced by numbers of followers, visitors, users, paying customers, etc.

But there are a number of challenges when trying to count everything. Relying too much on statistics can be very distracting and can lead to decision paralysis. Startups that become obsessed with metrics often lose their way.

Many entrepreneurs and business owners forget that not all metrics are important. Albert Einstein famously said:

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Wise words – and most startups (and small businesses) should take those words to heart.

We tend to rely very heavily on metrics (at my company, crowdSPRING) and therefore, are more likely than other companies to become distracted if we don’t smartly pick and choose the metrics that influence our decisions. Sometimes, we make the right decisions and focus on the right metrics. Other times, we make the wrong decisions and lose focus, paying attention to metrics that aren’t nearly as relevant as we mistakenly thought they would be. (Last week, I suggested four questions you should ask when making decisions based on metrics and statistics).

Given the wide availability of good software and plenty of data (from your internal and from many external sources), it’s pretty easy for startups to put together measurements on just about anything.

One of the lessons we’ve learned from our successes and failures: we are more likely to succeed when we spend a greater portion of our efforts discussing and debating what should be counted – and a smaller portion of our effort counting.

Numbers are good – but as Einstein correctly pointed out, everything does not need to be counted.

Do you agree?

image credit: cambodia4kidsorg

Startup Tip: Four Questions To Ask When Making Decisions Based On Metrics And Statistics

People are generally obsessed with metrics and statistics. Some on Twitter constantly talk about their number of followers or the number of lists on which they appear. Those on Facebook talk about how many friends they have. Bloggers talk about how many comments people have left in their blog or the number of times their posts have been tweeted. The media fixates on traffic to websites. Statistics and metrics are everywhere, and most people make decisions based, at least in part, on those statistics and metrics.

In an earlier video, I talked about the types of metrics and statistics that startups and small businesses should monitor. But statistics and metrics can be very misleading, and wrong. Here are four questions I always ask when making decisions based on metrics and statistics:

What questions do YOU ask before making decisions based on metrics and statistics?